Yesterday, I sat rapt listening to John Kerry speak about faith and values at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. Pepperdine, known for it's conservative leaning had invited the Senator to speak on that subject. His speech was deeply personal and profoundly moving and it reaffirmed why I am here, and why I believe deeply in John Kerry as a leader that America needs, now and in the future.
America, the world is changing and as our lives grow more complex, we all seek something that speaks to our hearts, that addresses our longing for something simpler, something that resounds in our souls. Applebee's America says what drives people to the polls, are "Gut Values," and Democrats often are seen as missing the boat in connecting with voters on these values.
Kerry's speech yesterday was an effort to urge people of faith, all faiths to work together cooperatively on problems that all people should be concerned about -- poverty, global warming and reducing the number of abortions. The "godly tasks," Kerry called them, that transcend our nation's culture wars.
"This discussion does not belong in the sole purview of one side of the political aisle," Kerry reminded us and, "There will always be those bent on corrupting our political discourse." Reflecting on the '04 campaign, Kerry told the audience at Pepperdine, largely students, "no matter your party, your ideology, or your faith, we are all done a disservice when the debate is reduced to ugly and untrue caricatures."
"Both my parents taught me early on," Kerry said, "that we are all put on this earth for something greater than ourselves." In choosing a life of public service, John Kerry forged that path that we all must forge, and it was not without it's tests.
Kerry talked frankly about his life and the some of the trials that led him to feel as though he had "wandered in the wilderness" after the Vietnam War. Ultimately, he came back to the Catholic Church when "suddenly and movingly, I had a revelation about the connection between the work I was doing as a public servant and my formative teachings."
Indeed, the scriptures provided a firmer guide about values applied to life – many of the things you are wrestling with now today.
I remember how difficult it was to be your age – so many decisions to work out, such a tangle of choices and possibilities, whose consequences seem unknowable – and yet life-shaping.
As the parent of teenager who will start college next year, I reflected on my daughter and the choices that she has to make in the coming years. Like John Kerry's parents taught him, I have taught my daughter that she is here for a higher purpose. We all are. It's how we choose to serve that purpose that counts. When I hear the claims that one faith has it over another, I cringe, because I believe as John Kerry does, that "All our different faiths, whatever their philosophical differences, have a universal sense of values, ethics, and moral truths that honor and respect the dignity of all human beings."
They all agree on a form of the Golden Rule and the Supreme importance of charity and compassion.
We are more than just Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims or atheists: we are human beings. We are more than the sum of our differences — we share a moral obligation to treat one another with dignity and respect—and the rest is commentary.
Kerry spoke of 10 questions that he thinks "are questions any Christian needs to wrestle with." The 10 questions as quoted from the Catholic Bishops 2004 voting guide: “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” Kerry said, "can be gathered around four issues where people of faith from every background can work together with other people of good will towards public policies that contribute to the common good."
Citing Hurricane Katrina, Kerry said, "amidst the howling wind and rushing flood waters, you could practically feel Americans’ emotional recognition—our shock—at just how far we still have to climb to fulfill our Christian responsibility to care for the worst off among us."
Jesus told us “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me,” but when the great flood of our time came, we weren’t ready. Interestingly, the most rapid and effective response came from the faith community, but as a country, we left people to die on rooftops and in hospital beds. The failure should sting and it should shame all of us, but it should also bring a renewed sense of mission: We’ve lapsed in our covenant between the people and the government, between rich and poor people and between rich and poor countries, that nobody should be left behind. No American, no country, no human being.
After the speech Kerry answered questions from four students and a faculty member. When asked about his thoughts on Bush's legislation aimed at changing the Geneva Conventions, Kerry answered with a thundering vehemence, "No Torture." His response was met with a thundering applause.
"Does it make it harder... yes it does... but experts have said that these harsh techniques don't work. The Geneva Conventions are not there for some 'nice thing we do', they are there to protect our troops."
"We get into crazy, silly fights in this country," Kerry said. "The president is running around trying to convince people only one party can protect the country. That is not the case." Again the applause was thunderous.
When questioned about his views on abortion and his faith, Kerry responded as he did during the campaign, he can not legislate based on his faith, he must legislate based on policy. He said, "the church expresses positions, not policy. My job is to make policy."
There were moments when listening to John Kerry speak, I was moved to tears, because it was so clear he spoke from his heart and there was a profound joining of hearts and minds in the auditorium that collectively got that faith has truly driven him in his career. Not the claim of the faith, but the true, deep abiding sense of being at one and at peace with his faith and who he is.
I do not believe that Democrats should avoid speaking about faith, because it is our faith and our values that drive us all to be involved. Whether we are religious, spiritual or non believers we all have values instilled in each of us. The values that John Kerry spoke of yesterday were the values that drove him into public life. The values that he spoke of are the values of a man grounded in that higher purpose, the values of a man "put on this earth for something greater than himself."
I still believe America would be in a better place today, had the results of '04 been different, and I still believe that it is John Kerry's destiny to lead this nation one day. His speech reaffirmed that belief, and it reaffirmed why I am here everyday, hoping to make a difference in our country and the world.